Former StubHub CTO to launch mental health care app based in South Lake Tahoe
March 29, 2017
A Bay Area startup guru is gearing up to launch an on-demand mental health care app to reduce the cost and increase the availability of therapy across the country — and he's doing it from South Lake Tahoe.
Shawn Kernes was the founding chief technology officer for the ticket sales platform StubHub, and has over 20 years of experience in building and leading tech-driven companies. But after years of watching his wife Chris work as a therapist, Kernes decided it was time to fulfill his third-grade dreams and start helping people in a different way.
"I would watch her go to work for a not-for-profit everyday. She didn't make very much money, she worked really hard, but every day she came home feeling like she had accomplished something, she had helped somebody," said Kernes.
"But the more I thought about it and the more I thought about the scope of the problem of mental health in this country, we are not going to solve it one person at a time."
Enter: Larkr, an app designed to connect patients with certified mental health care professionals through video chat.
"There are 50 million people in the U.S. that are in need of some level of mental health care, and only about 20 million of them are actually receiving it," said Kernes.
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And in small towns with limited resources, it's even more difficult to find a practitioner when you need one, noted Kernes — not to mention the cost when you do.
"Therapy can cost anywhere from upwards of $100 to an average of $200 – $300 per session, which is difficult for most people especially if your illness drives you to see a therapist every week or every other week," said Kernes.
By removing some of the costs associated with therapy, like office space and answering services, Larkr charges $85 for a 50-minute session and offers a simplified process through the app for submitting for reimbursement from insurance companies.
Larkr vets and on-boards licensed therapists, and employs an algorithm to match users with an appropriate therapist based on intake questions. Clients can book recurring appointments, get reminders for appointments, and have video therapy sessions from anywhere there is internet access.
"So we're looking to expand the footprint and make mental health care accessible to a much larger percentage of the population," said Kernes.
Accessibility also means getting the help right when you need it, not just when you can get an appointment.
"There are certain types of illnesses where you need help right now. If you're someone suffering from anxiety for example and you have a panic attack at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday, today your best option is go to the emergency room, but that's not ideal," explained Kernes.
Kernes also hopes that the app will help teenagers feel more comfortable with the idea of getting treatment for mental health issues.
"Social stigma is a big piece of it as well, and it's particularly problematic in teens. When you factor in the fact that roughly 75 percent of mental illness is developed during those teenage years — roughly 14-24 years old — it's a really critical time," said Kernes.
Kernes, who right now splits his time between the Bay Area and South Lake Tahoe, decided to base Larkr in South Lake Tahoe for a few reasons — a big one being his desire to return to small town life, but also to bring new high-paying jobs to diversify the region's tourism-based economy.
"Tahoe has a lot of things going for it. It's only a few hours away from Sacramento or the Bay Area, so the ability to access talent in those areas exists. There is access to capital, again, being only a few hours away from those regions," said Kernes. "There is clearly quite a bit of talent here as well."
South Lake Tahoe is also a perfect example of the type of town that needs a service like Larkr.
"Mental health is definitely underfunded here in Tahoe," said Kernes. "While Barton [Health] and [El Dorado] County have come in and done a great job and it continues to improve, it's still not there. The more awareness I can create locally, it's better for the community and better for the business."
Though Larkr is currently made up of a small remote team, Kernes has plans to secure a physical office in South Lake Tahoe and hire a larger team as the startup progresses. The beta launch of the Larkr iPhone app is scheduled for July, with the full launch of the iPhone and Android apps slated for September.
Find out more about Larkr at http://www.larkr.com.